On February 22, 2011, inspired by a project started by Canadian writer and entrepreneur Samantha Reynolds in January of the same year, I began writing a single poem every single day of the week for just shy of a year. My Poem A Day Project was a challenging, fulfilling and enlightening endeavor that, during its 345 days, allowed me to explore in great depths the art of writing poetry as well as exploring the greater depths of my own existence, soul and sensibilities. When I began the poems I had no preconceptions about their subject matter or for how long I thought I’d be able to keep up my chops and write poems every day that I felt were worthy of asking others to read. After all, I’m a writer who likes to share, to contribute my thoughts and emotions to the collective human anthology of our common experience, to make my voice one that speaks for those voices who, for one reason or another, can not, or wish not to partake in the discourse that every living soul that has ever lived fostered through the mere occurrence of simply being.
To say that writing a poem a day was an easy task would be a lie. There were days when I felt uninspired and restless, others where I had purpose and clarity, and others still where my thoughts flowed as freely and effortlessly as a waterfall. But I also owe a great debt of gratitude to the dozen or so loyal readers who followed my poetic odyssey religiously day in and day out, and whose comments and support were the catalysts behind my will, passion and unwavering determination to create a work of literary substance that was equally as satisfying in producing as it was in sharing. And I can say in retrospect that it fulfilled both of those, for myself and, if I can be so brazen, those kind, patient and encouraging souls who so graciously and generously allowed me the privilege of sharing my work and a part of me with them.
On February 1, 2012, after nearly one year of writing a poem a day, I decided that I could no longer write with the same purpose and emotion that had taken me thus far on my journey. I also felt as though I was asking too much of my readers at times to endure the increasingly dark and personal nature of my writing. It was on that day that I discontinued the project. At least that’s what I thought and what I led others to believe.
But truth be told I wasn’t finished. I had, I thought, more to say, more to experience, and more to set free. So on the very next day, February 2, 2012, I continued my poem a day project, but archiving the poems in a secluded place on this very website, filed under an uncategorized folder with name of “Negative Capability” which was even further concealed by a large portrait of the English romantic poet John Keats (1795 – 1821), who used the term negative capability to discuss the state in which people are “capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact and reason [being] content with half knowledge” where one trusts in the heart’s perceptions.
It was those very uncertainties and doubts which inspired me to continue writing until I found within myself the means to stop and to look at my work as a poet as something that I would like to put behind me, to say that my life as a poet could simply no longer sustain the deeper desires I held within the pit of my bosom to become a writer of greater breadth, substance and achievement. The final poem in this collection was written on April 23, 2012.
In a way, I am hoping that these will be the last poems I ever write, and that whatever paths my literary wanderings take me along will be replete with words and wonders and all the delights and dauntless valor that real writers are made of.
It is in Keats’ honor that I name this collection of poetry and to who I dedicate this work. And it is to my children to whom I leave these verses bearing witness to the love, fear, passion, curiosity and hope with which I have tried to live every day of my life.
Onwards and upwards!
I started writing my first novel when I moved to Granada, Spain, back in 1987. It was called “The Cabot in the Stone,” which got about as far as its title made sense. Since then I have started at least three other writing projects that were expressly meant to be novels, one of them being the last short story I posted here on November first, “Reintroducing Arnold.” (Read the story here).
Thanks to National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), I was able to crank out my first novel in less than thirty days this past November, a literary work that, despite the fact I haven’t read the complete manuscript yet, I am very proud of.
But now that my novel, “A River Runs Wild,” is finished (a first, un-edited, un-corrected, draft anyway), I’m still not sure what I’m going to do with it.
Writers today (and there are more of us than ever) have many choices of what to do with their writing. As a writer who has self-published his own writing for the past eighteen years (before it was considered fashionable or entrepreneurial or one could actually make money at it), going at it independently is always the “crap shoot” option. There are writers out there who are hawking their own books and ebooks on the internet and are actually making a living, a smaller few are even raking it in. Then there is the traditional avenue, finding a literary agent who will pound the pavement for a book deal with a legacy publishing house.
While next week will be the first time I actually print out my entire manuscript and read it in its entirety and begin the process of thinking about what to do with it, I’m now over the ecstasy of writing my first novel and the anticlimax of having finished it. Which presents another interesting consequence: I want to start writing my second novel. Now.
You might be inclined to say “finish this one first (re-write, edit, correct, etc.) before moving on,” but I’m really itching to start another writing project, one that my Poem A Day poems or Short Fiction Series won’t satisfy.
I now know that I can do what I had always thought to be impossible, and that’s write a novel. For the first time in my life I was more dedicated, more focused and better prepared to do this than ever before. And I’d be lying to you if I said that writing a novel hasn’t given me the biggest rush in the thirty years that I’ve been calling myself a writer. And I’d be lying again if I said that I didn’t want to have more of that feeling.
So I’m going to read my novel next week while traveling down south to Limburg for the holidays, but before I go I’m going to open a new word processing document on my Macintosh, put a title at the top of the blank page, and begin what will eventually be my second novel. Granted I won’t have the pressure that NaNoWriMo’s 50,000 words in 30 days presented me with, but I will have the satisfaction in knowing that the second novel I write will lead me that much closer to my ultimate ambition, which is writing my third novel. And my fourth. And my fifth. And so on and so on…
Onwards and upwards!
I decided to see what would happen if I launched an R.M. Usatinsky Page on Facebook, a place where I could center my writing-based activities and where people interested in following my work would have a sort of one stop shop of my literary offerings.
To that end I was excited to reach over 100 fans in just over a week. The premise was to offer one free, downloadable short story every month until the end of the year once I hit the 100 fan mark. I also added the incentive of giving away three signed copies of my poetry collection, “My Zayde: A Recollection,” if I hit my objective my the end of the first week, which I did. Signed books have already been sent to North Carolina, Florida and Illinois in the United States.
I have also begun uploading the complete poetry collection “My Zayde: A Recollection,” including all of artist Judith Sol-Dyess‘s drawings from the original first edition book. First published in 1994, the book re-tells the life story of my great-grandfather, a Russian-Jewish immigrant, in what Rabbi Herschel Strauss calls, “A vibrant language combining poetry, prose and storytelling.
February saw my initiating yet another new project, A Poem A Day. As the name suggests I will be writing a new poem each and every day, poems that reflect my current attitudes and experiences. Follow the daily poems here or in the Poem A Day archive at http://www.satinskypress.com/tag/apoemaday.
I am also working on compiling a definitive retrospect of my early collected poems in a single limited edition, “When Lucky Was a Blue Dog,” which I hope to release later this year and containing 150 never before released poems written between 1970 and 1990.
On the music front, my son and I are in discussions to record a full-length album of my Spanish language songs this summer. Watch this space for more details as they become available.
Finally, I have signed up with Amazon’s CreateSpace and Kindle publishing services and will soon begin releasing my works there. I am focusing more on ebook editions both for their positive environmental impact and for making my work available to a wider audience at a more modest price point than I can do with printed books. I’ll be releasing my first Kindle ebook title, “A Balmy August Wednesday,” a collection of five short stories, on April 1st at a retail price of under $3.00.
Thanks for all your support and happy reading!
SELF-IMAGE IS A FUNNY THING. I used to consider myself as being quite proficient at multitasking (pre-fatherhood, of course!), though as a male I’m not necessarily genetically predisposed to that particular skill set. Since the beginning of time, women have always had the ability to juggle a number of tasks simultaneously: feeding the baby, stirring the spaghetti sauce, clubbing invaders and saber-toothed tigers, texting, slamming the door on the brush salesman and answering the phone. And, on top of it, doing all those things with finesse and glam-oor.
It’s not that I’m incapable of multitasking, it’s just that it seems incompatible with Attention Deficit Disorder and raising a family. Or maybe updating my Facebook status and picking my nose at the same time doesn’t exactly qualify as multitasking in the first place!
The truth is, and it pains me to admit it, I have the attention span of a squirrel, that with normal things is about one second and about four minutes on acorns and nuts. This explains why I need to do many things at once in order to at least finish one. It’s what I call the Morris Theory of Do Lots of Things and Maybe You’ll Finish One If You’re Lucky. I suppose that explains my moderate success in raising my children, and dogs, working two (or more) jobs at a time and my simultaneous writing projects. I used to joke about wanting to have two wives which, for some reason, doesn’t seem funny to me anymore (maybe that’s because it wasn’t funny in the first place…).
All of this is leading up to the bigger issue of why it’s taking me so long getting down (and staying down) to some serious writing. One reason being that I’m stuck on the idea that my writing is mediocre (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing), and another is that I always have great excuses for not writing (kids, dogs and housekeeping, to name a few). But while those excuses may earn me compassion from friends and family members, it’s starting to get old and I’m quickly beginning to tire of the same old blah blah blah about why I can’t seem to just get on with it.
More and more I’m learning to multitask, especially with my domestic and family responsibilities, but it takes a great deal of effort and concentration. It’s a matter of thinking like a caveman, worrying that while I’m doing the dishes, cooking and preparing the baby’s bottle a saber-toothed tiger might crash through the garden window and make off with one of Wendy’s fresh-baked pies (heaven forbid!). I need to have my club nearby because no one, or nothing, is running off with my pie. Now if I could only be as serious with my writing as I am about pie, who knows what I could accomplish…
(This post was originally published on July 24, 2009.)
COWS ARE AMAZING ANIMALS. Beautiful, serene, patient, focused and disciplined. I should have been born a cow—at least to have been able to satisfy my professional ambition of being a writer. I’m actually quite surprised that more cows haven’t chosen this line of work as they are quite suited for it.
So what is it about cows? Grazing, chewing, standing, passing long hours with saint-like grace and patience—here a moo, there a moo, every now and then a moo-moo—and for very little compensation.
Had I the focus, determination and discipline of a cow, I could imagine Paul Auster sitting in bed with Siri on a Sunday morning reading Janet Maslin’s brilliant review of my latest novel in The New York Times and turning to his wife to say, “Usatinsky’s done it again. The bastard’s 16 years younger than I am and has published twice as many novels as I have and written more screenplays than me and Mamet put together. And listen to this, Maslin writes about how ‘writers like Paul Auster and Philip Roth have inspired Usatinsky to achieve an even greater level of commercial success than his literary mentors.’ Literary mentors?! How do you like that? I don’t know how he does it, how one writer can produce so much material. He’s like a cow, just grazing all day, up and down the pastures, head down, determined, unstoppable.” Siri looks at her husband as he continues to shake his head while reading the review, “Would you pass me the Sunday Style section Paul darling.”
I suppose what makes cows—and Paul Auster—successful in what they do is that they have been able to adopt a tried and true strategy, and that’s the key to success. That is where my shortcomings lie in that I constantly fail in my quests to devise methods or viable strategies leading me to focus fervently on my writing. At best, my work trickles out. And it’s certainly not due to a lack of ideas. You know the old saying, “if I had a nickel for every good idea I’ve come up with I’d be a millionaire.” Well that’s me, lots of good ideas and short on follow through. And it’s certainly not due to lack of motivation: eating is nice.
Perhaps what I’m lacking all boils down to maturity. It may inevitably be a result of my childish musings that I still—even at 46—ponder the question: what do I want to be when I grow up?
Being a writer seems to be a good profession. Look what it’s done for Auster and Roth and Mamet and Irving. On the other hand, being a cow seems a lot simpler—and maybe even a bit more practical. I mean, have you ever known a cow to get a bad review in The New York Times…?
(This post was originally published on November 9, 2009.)
WELL IT JUST GOES TO SHOW how well I know myself. I have, once again, failed miserably in my attempt to write this novel. I have had what turns out to be perhaps one of the longest stretches of writers block I have ever experienced—barely capable of writing an email and, at times, so blocked that it was even difficult for me to come up 140 characters for a Twitter post! Needless to say I’m extremely disappointed in myself—disgusted might be a better choice of word—and have no excuses whatsoever to justify not being able to sit down twice a day and write something—anything.
So where I go from here is anybody’s guess. Obviously I’d like to finish this novel, shop it, get a book and movie deal, buy the Porsche and 10-room flat in Mayfair and just get on with my life. So I guess it’s back to the old drawing board and see where things go from here.
I’m presently waiting to receive notes on my short story collection, “A Balmy August Wednesday,” from a friend in the US after which I plan on immediately publishing with Amazon’s CreateSpace. Meanwhile, I think I’ll reintroduce myself to “Smithdown Road,” have a read and see if—and when—I can muster up the wherewithal to get back to working on this novel.
It’s going to be an interesting and challenging summer with lots in store. My son has already joined Wendy, the baby and me in Liverpool and my oldest daughter will be arriving in less than two weeks followed by my mother’s arrival from Chicago on July 23rd. And to put the icing on the cake I’m officially announcing that we are moving to The Netherlands at the beginning of August when my aunt and uncle will be joining us from L.A. for three weeks from the 4th. While this summer promises to be a full and exciting one, I’m hoping that with all the positive energy that I’m constantly being bombarded by I’ll be able to find a way to get back on track and get down to some serious writing. And while there’s probably no feasible way of finishing the novel by the end of August and the 90 days I had envisioned (unless I publish it as a sonnet!), I will keep chronicling my progress here. Key word being progress.
Wishing everyone a safe, happy and productive summer.
ON THIS DATE BACK IN 1925, Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs. Dolloway” was published by Hogarth Press—the imprint founded by Woolf and her husband Leonard in London a few years earlier.
What’s most notable about Mrs. Woolf’s publishing venture is that it represents an innovative entrepreneurial enterprise which started out as merely a hobby where she and her husband began hand-printing books. The enterprise of which I speak, most naturally, is what today we call “Self-Publishing.”
The publishing industry is broad and varied with as many or more titles be released in alternative formats (ebooks, audio books, etc.) as in traditional bound books. And the way authors get their works published and to the reading public has also changed thanks mainly to the internet and the growing number of personal computing devices available.
I self-published my first collection of poetry “My Zayde: A Recollection,” back in 1994 when it was classified as a chapbook or “vanity” publication (though in my case it was also my Masters Thesis Project), and though it was a legitimate book complete with an ISBN number, copyright and barcode, self-publishing back then was still for writers who usually just weren’t good enough to get “a real publishing deal.” Or, as in my case, were producing a work of poetry—which only accounts for about two percent of all book sales in the US.
Today, self-publishing is at the forefront of a series of alternatives that are available for paving the way towards giving writers more opportunities and better control over their work. And thanks to the internet, and on-line start-to-finish services such as lulu.com and Amazon’s CreateSpace, self-publishing is not only made easy, it’s a great way for writers to get their work out there in a timely manner and to start earning some money and, if their marketing savvy is well honed, garner a broad reader/fan base that will not only buy their books but recommend them to them family and friends.
I’ve personally had a go at using lulu.com and without much success to boast of. At one point I had a collection of short stories, two one-act plays, and novella and some poetry collections in English and Spanish online and only sold a few copies of my ebooks. Granted it was a “nothing to lose everything to gain” type scenario, but I’m afraid that the products I had on offer weren’t mainstream or commercial enough to attract buyers…which is precisely why I’m writing a novel!
In the last few days I have signed up with Amazon’s CreateSpace and in the coming weeks will self-publish two titles on my Satin Sky Press imprint: “A Balmy August Wednesday,” a collection of five short stories, and “Pase de la Firma,” a novella set in Spain during the 1920s. These books will be available as standard trade paperbacks, ebooks and audiobooks. They will also be for sale on Amazon.com and on my own website which will be up and running on June 1st.
So like Mr. and Mrs. Woolf, my love of books, reading, writing and publishing do indeed have a place to converge—in the world of self-publishing.
I’m happy to report that I have started Chapter Two of “Smithdown Road,” and will soon be well on my way to my next milestone of 25,000 words.
Onwards and upwards!
I’VE ARRIVED AT THE 10,000 WORD MILESTONE IN MY NOVEL “SMITHDOWN ROAD.” Although I’m a little behind schedule (by one day and a thousand words), I feel I’ve reached an important turning point—one that says “you’re off to a good start, and now there’s no looking back.”
I’m probably going to do a bit of editing and put the finishing touches on Chapter One before starting Chapter Two tomorrow. I’ve introduced another new character and it looks as though my protagonist will be on his way to England in the next chapter.
I’m finally starting to pick up some momentum and definitely starting to enjoy this, especially the spontaneity of just sitting down and letting the ideas flow and seeing the story come together as if it’s by magic. That’s what I love most about writing, when the story seems to write itself.
So like my friend the pachyderm up there, I’m a bit slow out of the gate, but once I get started there’s no stopping my determination and resilience.
Not to feel exasperated or defeated or despondent because your days aren’t packed with wise and moral actions. But to get back up when you fail, to celebrate behaving like a human–however imperfectly–and fully embrace the pursuit you’ve embarked on.
I MOVED TO SPAIN for the first time in October of 1987 and spent the better part of two years living in the beautiful, ancient Moorish city of Granada, in Spain’s southernmost region of Andalucía,
It was there in Granada that I amassed the most significant amount of creative writing—mainly what I consider to be “epic poetry”—in my young career as a writer to date. In all, I wrote two collections of poetry—”Calvo Sotelo’s Adventures in Birdland,” and “The Street of Mercy’s Oven”—containing well over 100 epic, or long, poems.
I consider those years in Granada important ones in my development as a writer mostly due to the fact the writing was innocent, uninhibited and mainly created for my own amusement. There, typing on a now considered primitive electric typewriter, I was free to explore, experiment and lose myself in my poetic meanderings.
But those days are long gone as today I seek, as I have for the past two decades or more, to find ways of becoming—as Garp desires in the Irving novel—a “real writer.”
In honor of Mother’s Day 2010, I’ve decided to reproduce here one of the never-before-seen poems from “Calvo Sotelo’s Adventures in Birdland,” written in 1988 and aptly titled, “Mother’s Day.”
Talking to my own mother today—as well as celebrating baby Bella’s fifth month birthday and attending Sully O’Sullivan’s very nice stand-up comedy workshop at the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts , started by Sir Paul McCartney on a campus which once housed his boyhood school—I had nary the time to work as diligently on my novel as I had wanted, therefore not reaching my anticipated 10,000 word milestone. However I’m confident that I’ll make it up and get back on track during the week to come.
So, as promised…
Mother’s Day (Or Colonel Harmon)
In one ear and out the other father.
There I was a lonely soldier;
An only soldier there amidst the ranks of deadmen.
And what was I to do with the bodyheap?
The radio went crackling off “mayday, mayday.”
Something has gone wrong with this supposed to be Colonel Harmon.
Please advise on any current condition; please advise.
You’re only but across the alleyway from home, son.
Run there as quickly as possible to advise your colonel father of the massacre.
I dropped the crackling radio with all of its army voices speaking in codes.
Made it through the hall unnoticed;
In through the front door secured the lock.
Father was there on the army band hand held radio.
Mother looking puzzled as ever.
I went on to explain the story of the ghastly murder;
The blood, the bones, the stenches in the trenches.
Father said that he’d just been promoted to the rank of full staff colonel.
How odd I thought, and what became of Colonel Harmon?
Never existed? Could he have been the imposter?
In all agreement the madman would soon be after father.
Let us prepare and be ready to receive him.
We locked tight all the windows and doubled up the doors.
I kept looking from out of my parent’s window to the gangway below;
These murderous, caped, monster-faced villains always seem attracted to
After careful preparation and a bit of gallant waiting, my hunch had finally paid off:
There he ran caped through the gangway, flew across the street and then disappeared.
I grabbed my cricket bat that sat just beside the door.
I could feel his presence drawing near and nearer still.
Then it came.
The subtle knock at the door.
A trick! Such a light and delicate knock.
Everyone take their places, prepare to go the distance.
I peeked through the peephole and saw the new downstairs neighbor.
An orthodox Jewish woman who looksd much older than she was.
How nice I thought that she should pay us a visit.
But I didn’t fall so easily for the madman’s ploy.
Taking my bat I tucked myself neatly round the corner, told mother to open
The door at the count of three.
I prepared myself for the rush of fear I knew would follow at the first face to face.
The door swung open.
The madman pushed the Jewess aside.
He growled and drooled as I took my first full swing.
Striking, I struck only the door, but struck into the mind of the madman the reality that we had prepared for battle;
A reality for which he was obviously ill prepared.
Now the fight, on to the torment.
Blow after blow, we had the first advantage.
I battered him round a bit and then went to tell father who was still on that
Crackling radio that the madman killer had arrived and that I was battling,
Defeating him quite easily.
I told father that the madman was badly wounded in the front room.
Come look quick father and help me finish him off.
Father came in, surveyed the scene, said how nicely I’d done.
I opened the window and asked father if we should just dump him out.
No said father and hence began the brunt of trouble.
As the madman lay there he transformed his face into father’s,
Began to arise, and what was I to do now?
I looked over to father and saw that he was there beside me.
I took my battled strength and took aim at the madman’s head.
One swift blow and he was back to pain and dying,
Though I was a bit confused for it seemed that it was father’s head I’d struck.
But I remembered that father was there beside me,
It was the madman’s ruse to try and take me for loop.
I bashed and I smashed as if there was no tomorrow,
But it was father’s pain and agony that I felt.
I kept swinging away as he kept fighting for his life.
I couldn’t believe any man or beast could survive this brand of beating.
He squinted and cringed harder and harder with every blow.
I kept on smacking him and swacking him, but this beast would just not die.
Finally, I turned to father but he no longer stood beside me.
Father, where have you gone and why have you left me here all alone?
And what am I to do with this man-refuses-to-die thing?
Where is mother and where is my support?
Could I be killing father or could it be Colonel Harmon?
Is it too late to stop?
Yes. I think he’s past brain damaged.
What do I do now?
The man gripped his own head even harder and tighter.
I raised my bat and struck one last devastating blow.
I looked out of the corner of my eye to see if and liquids or parts of any vital
Cranial organs were visible through the crack I’d made in his skull.
But no, none such things appeared.
Where was father?
Where was mother?
Where was Colonel Harmon?
Who was this man here and did he deserve to die?
Could he have been the murderer?
Could I have been the murderer?
Finally the sound of rain beating down on the roof startled me awake.
I reversed father, the madman, Colonel Harmon—all of them—to feelings of
Mother and feelings of guilt.
How I could I have forgotten such an important date?
Do forgive me mother, for I am but a selfish and thoughtless boy.
Overlook my shortcomings for I serve no real purpose other than this.
Happy Mother’s Day.
TODAY I’VE HIT A ROADBLOCK. Had two good writing sessions in the morning and after lunch decided to go back to the beginning of the manuscript and read it over. I’m not sure that was a good idea as it not only distracted me and took away valuable writing time, I ended up trashing a few pages and doing some re-writing that at the end of the day left me with a bit of a deficit of close to a thousand words.
I suppose this was a necessary exercise and I think I’ve learned a valuable lesson about revising the manuscript, which is that I should probably wait until reaching certain milestones (10k, 25, 50k) before spending any serious time revising and editing. After all, my objective here is to finish the manuscript in 90 days, not have a novel that’s ready to hit the bookshelves the next day.
The good news is that I got back on track in the late afternoon and there have been some really neat developments—some added intrigue, even a death!—and I’m happy to say that I really like the new twist in the the story line. I’m not certain that I’ll reach my 10,000 word goal by tomorrow, but I’m going to try and set some solid objectives and see if I can’t get close.
As I say, onwards and upwards. Tomorrow’s another day—Mother’s Day in the US and Bella’s fifth month birthday—and there are plenty of Marks and Spencer’s iced carrot cupcakes to celebration all of the day’s milestones.
ON THIS DATE BACK IN 1886, Coca-Cola first went on sale at Jacob’s Pharmacy in Atlanta, Georgia. Today, with some 94,000 employees worldwide, The Coca-Cola Company offers more than 400 brands in over 200 countries or territories and serves 1.6 billion servings each day. Books, by sharp contrast, sell at the rate of approximately 15 per second, which calculates into about 1.3 million sales per day.
I’ll be the first to admit that an icy-cold Coke goes down better with a grilled veggie burger or slice of greasy pizza than War and Peace or Wuthering Heights, but I wonder where society’s gone wrong in its attempt to get people—especially young people—to read more. The amount of money that soft drink companies and fast food chains spend to fatten up our kids is obscene. And ask yourself this: when was the last time you saw an advertisement hawking books directed at young people? Probably never, because for all intents and purposes they don’t exist.
Now I’m not trying to suggest that Coca-Cola is to blame for kids not reading. In fact, Coca-Cola pledged about 18 million dollars a few years back to the US Reading is Fundamental (RIF) campaign to encourage literacy in children. Okay, so it was tied into a deal giving Coke a juicy multi-million dollar marketing deal with the Harry Potter film franchise but their efforts did go towards an aggressive campaign aimed at child literacy.
I’ve been giving a good amount of thought over the past couple of days to the question of how we can get our children reading more, but the competition is stiff. Game consoles, computers, the internet and television all vie for our kids’ attention (and their parents money) with massive advertising campaigns and the lure that technology has. Sure my own kids have their Gameboys, PSPs, PlayStations, laptops and iPods, but they also have a decent collection of books—and in two languages covering a variety of genres. But there are kids today that never pick up a book and that’s a shame. I surely don’t have to go into all the benefits reading has but for parents not to do more to get their kids reading is simply beyond comprehension.
Today I’ve been thinking about whether or not my novel, “Smithdown Road,” will ever be published. What I am pretty certain of is that my children will eventually read it. Maybe yours will too. And while reading may not be as exciting to some kids as, say the latest version of Grand Theft Auto for the PSP, surely parents could add in a few more books to their household entertainment budget. Maybe they could even have designated reading times throughout the week (at least during the times when all these devices are recharging!).
At lunch today I drank my first Coke in about a month—one of these new 150ml mini cans (about one gulp and three and half swallows)—while eating a veggie burger and fries while reading the election results in the newspaper. So in some ways things do go better with Coke. But for me, books are “the real thing” and here’s hoping that we can find new ways to get kids reading more. Maybe the solution is out there in some new technology, or in cyberspace. But until book publishers smell the coffee and get with the program and launch more aggressive marketing campaigns aimed at young readers, I’m afraid that literacy is doomed. And so are, though I dread saying it, books as we know them today.
Finally, after two days with varying Pomodoro use, I’m back using the 25-minute timed sessions which is working very well. Another thousand words today brings me another step closer to Sunday’s projected 10,000 word mark and the end of chapter one. It may be another month or more before I drink my next Coke, but by then I’ll have hit the 20,000 word mark and it might be time for a sip or two of champagne. Happy birthday Coca-Cola. Here’s to “making it real.”
I’M NOT ONE OF IGNACIO ZARAGOZA’S ZAPPADORES. At least I wasn’t the last time looked.
Not to be confused with Mexican Independence Day, which, by the way, is September 16th, Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Mexican army’s unlikely victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, under the leadership of General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín.
Today, I’ve won a little battle of my own in reaching the 5,000 word mark in my novel. But they say that winning a war is all about winning battles and obviously there are some battles lost along the way to victory. But today is about celebrating the small victories, like hitting the 5,000 word mark in my novel…
Now you’re probably thinking that 5,000 words is no big deal. It’s not actually. I’ve actually cranked that many words out in a single sitting—I’ve translated twice that many words from Spanish to English in a day—so it’s not much of an accomplishment unto its own. What it does go to show is that it is possible for me to stick to a plan. And while it may be too early to call this experiment a success, for me the mere fact that I’ve reached day five is significant because it represents my having gotten past the biggest obstacle of all—getting started. And if past successes are any indicator of future ones, there’s the certainty of knowing that once I get started—really started—there’s no stopping me.
In the Battle of Puebla, the Mexicans were outnumbered two to one by the French and totally out gunned, but when the dust settled French general Charles de Lorencez carried away more than 700 dead and wounded soldiers, the Battle of Puebla went decisively to the Mexicans. But that was only one battle and a year later French forces captured the capital of Mexico City, forcing the government of Benito Juárez into exile in northern Mexico. Now while I’m not planning to lose many battles here, all the great generals throughout history have had one thing in common: a good back up plan. Mine is to count on the support of my friends and family. But perhaps not in the way one might think. My plan simply involves telling as many people as possible that I’m writing this novel. What will that accomplish? For me, everything. If there’s one thing that goes against everything I believe in, that would letting other people down. So the simple psychology behind my thinking is that the more people I tell that I’m writing a novel, the more people I would potentially be letting down by not finishing it. Sounds a bit crazy I know, but hey, whatever works…
Finally, the photo of me above was taken in Tijuana, Mexico in 1967 when I was barely four years old. I haven’t changed much since then—a bit taller and fuller around the mid section—I still wear funny hats (my name isn’t really Pancho!) and still have a child’s heart filled with hope, dreams and unbridled enthusiasm.
Onwards and upwards!
I’M NOT A PACK RAT, collector or a favorite this-favorite that kinda guy; I have had a few favorite shirts over the years—a Calvin Klein flannel that I bought in L.A. circa 1985 that I wore down to the threads and finally had to throw away some ten years later—and I do have a favorite coffee mug (seen here, though it’s used mainly for tea and Ovaltine). I bought this mug as an undergraduate student at DePaul back in 1989 and it has been a constant companion ever since, by my side through thick and thin, in three countries and more than a dozen different homes and as many jobs. I think often and fondly about my college experience and feel privileged to have earned not one but two university degrees at DePaul, which in my opinion is a truly upstanding institution of higher education. My only regret is that my undergraduate degree is completely useless. Now I’m not suggesting that being a playwright is an ignoble profession, it’s just that unless you’re independently wealthy, Neil Simon, or dead (Shakespeare, Moliere, Marlowe, etc.), you probably won’t make a penny as a playwright—and I say that from 25 years of experience. The other way to approach this is doing what Kafka did, get a horribly boring and tedious day job and write at night. That might work, but keep in mind that Kafka didn’t have a wife and three children to raise (or Facebook for that matter!). Besides, look what happened to poor Franz anyway, wrote a couple of masterpieces that he told his best friend to burn and then he died at 40 never having achieved any sort of fame, fortune or recognition during his lifetime. I mean, that’s what it’s all about, right?
So here I am at 46, and while I’ve outlived Kafka, David Mamet still gets more fan mail than I do and Eve Ensler—who’s written barely half the number of plays that I have is only famous because she wrote a play about her vagina—enjoys an entry in Wikipedia and a long list of awards and honors despite being relatively unknown to the masses.
I only mention my university degree to drive home a simple point, that being that I am over $100,000 ($120,218.07 to be exact) in the rears on paying back my student loans (more than half in interest,penalties and fees). I can almost overlook the fact that my degree in Playwriting is useless, but what’s really enraging is that my ex-wife with her undergraduate and graduate degrees in Biology and a Ph.D. in Medicine and Molecular Biology from European universities paid a miniscule fraction of what I paid for my “quality American liberal arts degree. And I guarantee you that she’s making more money than Eve Ensler (not really, but she should be!). And adding insult to injury, my college teachers hated me and thought that my writing was crap. Which is why (once again) I blame the system. There should have been and should be a disclaimer for the dreamy eyed students enrolling in these programs: THE DEGREE YOU ARE ABOUT TO UNDERTAKE IS USELESS AND YOU WILL PROBABLY NEVER EARN A PENNY IN THE REAL WORLD. No one ever said to me, “Oh, a degree in Playwriting—WHAT, ARE YOU NUTS?!…
So taking a tip from Mamet (who’s earned his millions in the film industry), I’m going to try my hand at writing novels. But not for the sake of merely writing novels. You see, I love the theater and it’s my hope that once the novels become best sellers and are adapted into blockbuster, Oscar-winning films, I’ll be able to, in my old age, adapt them for—what else—the stage.
But before that can happen I need to carry on with the task at hand—Day 4 of “Smithdown Road,” which from where I’m sitting, and to use another Beatles metaphor, is looking more a long and winding road, was a huge challenge as Wendy travelled to The Hague for the day and returned quite late at night having left me attending to Miss Bella for a record 18 hours straight. It was a good day in the end and I was very productive, I turned in my articles and photo spread to The JC and managed to tick off all of the chores on my to-do list. In all I manage 1,116 words and feel I’m closing in on the end of Chapter 1.
Will I ever pay off my student loans? Probably not. Does that make me socially irresponsible? Probably. But I will offer this tidbit of advice to the U.S. Department of Education: Instead of offering deadbeats like me loan “rehabilitation” and “consolidation” to help in “remedying my defaulted student loan status,” why not work to ensure that students enter into more practical, sensible and career sustaining college careers in the first place at least giving them chance of finding a decent job in a field they’re suited and prepared for. Playwriting is great but should be left to Shakespeare, Mamet and those few golden hours after coming home from a hard day’s work when you want nothing more than cozy to up with the kids, enjoy a romantic dinner with the missus and curl up on the sofa to a nice film. Mamet’s “House of Games” will be on tonight at my house so stop by if you’re in the neighborhood. And bring a bag of organic popcorn.
WRITING IS A LOT LIKE WORKING WITH CLAY.You start out with and idea and a green slab of muck and if you roll it out, stretch it, and shape it just right it will eventually take the form of something. Unfortunately everything we create doesn’t turn out to be as big a success as say, Gumby and Pokey or Harry Potter, and more often than not our creative output yields nothing but frustration, disillusionment and defeat—and that’s if we’re lucky.
Monday I somehow managed to churn out 1009 words in three non-Pomodoro sittings. It’s not that I wasn’t focused—I was quite focused—but seeing how it was a bank holiday in the UK and Wendy was home from work, I had a lot more free time than I anticipated so I took full advantage of writing on my own terms and spending a little more time than usual on research and fact checking.
I feel that I’m really off to a good start and feeling positive that there’s a story beginning to take shape as a result of the coordinated effort between what my brain thinks and what my fingers type.
Tuesday will be a real challenge as Wendy is off to The Hague for the day—leaving at 5 a.m. and returning at 11 p.m. So 18 hours with Bella and my JC article due in the morning so I can count on being tied up until at least noon. My only concern for Tuesday is that refrigerated breast milk doesn’t run out. Or my patience for that matter…
DAY TWO WAS CHALLENGING FROM THE START. I was as up early as usual—about 4:30 a.m.—and should have done my first writing session but I decided that seeing how I’d be having a long day (I covered a day-long event, Liverpool Limmud, for The Jewish Chronicle) I went back to bed. By the time I woke up again, at about 8 a.m., there was only time for breakfast and dog walks before having to catch the 78 Halewood bus to Liverpool Hope University where the day’s event was taking place. The Limmud Day finished promptly at 6 p.m. and I walked the half mile or so to the Liverpool Jewish Tennis Club where a festive Lag B’Omer holiday BBQ was to begin at 7 and where I wanted to grab a dozen or so photos (and a delicious grilled veggie burger with all the trimmings!) before heading home. I got home to find Wendy and the baby walking the dogs and after we got upstairs I called the Spanish contingency to see if they had arrived safely from their family weekend in Madrid and to tell them about my exciting and exhausting day. In keeping with the BBQ theme, Wendy brought home a bag of one Walker’s newest potato chip flavors—American Cheeseburger—one of 15 new flavors in Walker’s latest contest. The internationally “flavoured” contest asks consumers to pick their favorite new flavor—Spanish Chicken Paella, Itaian Spaghtetti Bolognese, Australian BBQ Kangaroo and French Garlic Baguette are a few of the flavors. After chomping on the chips, settling down to a cup of green tea and bouncing Bella on my knee for a few minutes, I sat down and wrote just over a thousand words with relative ease and fluidity. As I felt focused and determined, I didn’t use the Pomodoro timer for this session but I worked for about an hour nonetheless. The story is beginning to take shape but I still sense that these are very early days. I’m becoming concerned that my rigid writing schedule feels somewhat unnatural and that the many hours in between sessions is giving way to filling this time with a million different ideas about where the story is going. I remember writing the five interconnected short stories in “A Balmy August Wednesday” in about three weeks back in the summer of 2008 with no outline and quite frankly no idea about where the thing was going. It was, and in the purest sense, a completely organic and spontaneous work. I suppose I’m worried that all this rigidness and planning will serve to undermine the spontaneity that has always been an essential element of my writing. I imagine only time will tell.
Onwards and upwards!
OFF AND RUNNING. I did my very first writing sessions using the Pomodoro Technique today and I’m quite pleased with the results: 1,124 words combined from my morning and evening sessions. It was very straightforward, two 25-minute blocks after breakfast and two 25-minute blocks about an hour before bedtime. I used a little warm-up time this morning to quickly review the first 1650 words that I had written previously as a “booster” and made some technical changes to a couple of key elements in the introductory storyline. I imagine the next few days will be more or less the same though tomorrow, Sunday, I’m covering a day-long event for The Jewish Chronicle so I’ll need to get somewhat of an early start on the morning session. Wendy’s off on Monday as it’s a bank holiday here in the UK but I anticipate keeping on task. The challenge begins on Tuesday when Wendy will be leaving for an all-day trip to The Hague and I’m on baby duty from 4 a.m. until Wendy returns at 10:30 p.m. I’m confident that I’ll be able to stick to the game plan taking advantage of baby down time to keep the house, baby, dogs and writing in check. I’ve also decided to try and squeeze in about an hour a day of research and fact checking as the novel is chock full-o details about people, places and dates that must be as accurate as possible (or close enough for jazz anyway!). Onwards and upwards!
I’M DOING THIS. I’ve had enough time to ponder and dream. And now it’s time to get to work and write my first novel. Scratch that. Now it’s time to finish my first novel. But before I can finish it, I have to start it. And I have. I’ve written just over 1500 words in what is shaping up to be Chapter 1. Tonight I’m sitting down with Wendy and finishing my outline and tomorrow, Saturday May 1, 2010, I will work towards churning out an average of a thousand words a day for the next 90 days. I wish I could say that this is going to be one of the biggest creative challenges I’ve ever undertaken—and in some ways it is—but I’ve been known to work well under pressure. As a matter of fact, my last “major” literary work, “A Balmy August Wednesday,” a collection of five short stories, was written in just under three weeks with a total word count of about 23,000 words; or about a thousand words a day…
My novel is called “Smithdown Road,” and tells the fictional story about the Beatles’ “real” last album…and the secret that George Harrison took with him to the grave.
I’m going to briefly chronicle my daily writing activity here and though I won’t necessarily be commenting directly on detailed information about the novel’s argument, I will try and document the challenges—and successes—that I encounter over the next 90 days.
Finally, for those who might be looking for a new way to increase productivity and/or improve your focus, I’m going to be using the “Pomodoro Technique” throughout the writing of this book and will record my thoughts and opinions about the technique here as well.